Kazem Zandi founded One Silicon Chip Photonics (OSCP) in 2014 after completing his Ph.D. thesis “Integrated Microphotonic-MEMS Inertial Sensors” to develop integrated Micro-Opto-Electro-Mechanical Systems (MOEMS) motion sensors. The company uses integrated micro-optics technology to measure acceleration or rotation of an object. OSCP is currently finalizing $500K in seed funding to develop prototypes and plans to seek Series A funding is roughly 1.5 years.
The initial idea was conceived in 2007 when Kazem was working on accelerometers for microsatellites. Microsatellite can’t support the volume and weight of shielding, which is used in full size satellites to ensure reliable operation for electrical-based inertial measurement units. Optical motion sensors ensure better performance and more reliable operation without shielding; however, historically they have been large and expensive. Kazem’s thesis and the genesis for OSCP was to combine optics and MEMS to develop a small, cost effective optical MEMS motion sensor.
OSCP uses silicon optical waveguides to integrate MEMS components with silicon micro-optical elements on the same chip. The company has developed a fully Integrated Optical MEMS Accelerometer and Angular Rate Sensor that takes advantage of both MEMS and optical resonators to create high performance in-plane accelerometers and angular rate sensors.
Compared to tradition electrical (capacitive) MEMS motion sensors, integrated optical motion sensors have better resistivity to harsh environments, offering immunity to EMI and insensitivity to charging, fire, humidity and dusty environments. They also have higher performance, featuring lower signal noise and bias drift. Multiple sensors can be integrated on the same chip (using optical waveguides), extending measurement range and accuracy, and providing redundancy. They are significantly smaller, lighter and consume less power than other sensors with equivalent performance.
However, an optical MEMS-based gyro cannot achieve the performance required for applications OSCP is targeting, such as self-driving cars and drones. For this reason, OSCP is working on a new approach that does not involve any MEMS component (no moving parts). Its devices use an optical ring resonator that works based on the Sagnac effect (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sagnac_effect). Today’s high-performance fiber optic gyros cost more than $20K, which makes them only applicable to high-end military, defense and aerospace applications. There is a market opportunity for a gyro that can achieve the high performance and electrical immunity of a fiber optic gyro at a cost point (roughly $200 or less) that will enable a new range of price sensitive applications. Based on this opportunity, two years ago OSCP embarked on a fully optical approach for a MEMS-scale gyro.
Today, companies are using traditional MEMS IMUs in autonomous cars, which fail to meet performance requirements, or fiber optic IMUs, which are cost prohibitive. Kazem said that potential customers he’s talked to have acknowledged the problem, but have not focused on it because they have their hands full developing other aspects of autonomous systems. Due to their low cost, small size and low power consumption, OSCP’s sensors will enable dead reckoning inertial navigation in numerous applications that were previously beyond the reach of today’s bulky and expensive high-performance inertia sensors.
The company has developed prototypes for its Optical MEMS accelerometer and is in the simulation phase of development for its optical gyro, with fabrication to follow. C2MI will be OSCP’s foundry partner.
Kazem Zandi, Ph.D., founder and CEO (previously a MEMS Process Development Scientist at C2MI and Senior Optoelectronics Engineer at Defense R&D Canada)